Menu JTA Search

The Human Touch

Download PDF for this date

What ten authors would you burn?

The livelier French equivalent to our own Literary Digest, “Lu,” suggests this game to its readers, and there is no reason why Americans should not take it up as a new parlor diversion, in a rather more playful and less viciously opinionated manner than the Germans of the Third Reich have displayed.

We have all more or less engaged in the contrary game, namely, that of mentioning the ten books, or the ten authors, we would like to be marooned on a desert island with, and many of us must have pored over lists of the best hundred books of all time, or the twenty best novels of the century, or the seventy-nine most readable novels of the last forty-three years, and so on and so forth.

“Lu,” in inviting its readers to participate in this (metaphorical) book-burning contest, places no limitation as to time, place, language. The body of all literature is combustible, whatever the soul may be. (Reminding us, paranthetically, of the Talmudic legend that when good books are put into the fire, only the physical quality of the volumes is consumed; the good words fly upwards to Heaven.) “Lu” asks it readers to nominate either ten authors, or ten particular books of as many or as few authors as they wish.

“We do not require from you reasons for your choices; that is something for you to settle with your conscience. You may send a writer to the fire, because you don’t like the looks of his nose, or because his name offends your sense of sound; because he has no talent, or because he has too much talent.”

The French paper, in commending its readers to their torches, promises to announce the ten books, or authors, which most of its readers agree should be burned

The attitude represented by “Lu’ is refreshingly Gallic. Its invitation to its readers reduces to a game what the tribal Teutons make into such serious and bitter business The flippant (or flip) response ha# much to recommend it, because i# either closes the argument or reduces it to the absurd, where it be longs.

I know how often it is necessary to fight fire with fire, to oppose in tolerance with one’s full force, bu# in warring against intolerance there is so much danger that one may fall headlong into the error o# adopting the attitudes of intolerance. Intellectually, I prefer the rapier to the bludgeon; but, emotionally, I suspect, my inclination i# toward a mallet or a battering ram And yet I know that a rapier can do a lot of work without messing up the place.

The parlor game suggested by “Lu” recalls the attempt of a probably worthy gentleman who suggested, some time before the National Socialists were preparing their heaps of books for the auto da-fe, that if Germans were going to burn books of Jewish origin why, then Jews should burn the books of Germans. Which is, of course silly. Books die of dust flames have a way of making immortal what they consume—the essential moral of the Talmud legend


I Do Not believe that the extent to which the Nazis are attempting to “co-ordinate” German art is generally understood here. It is known, of course, that Max Liebermann, Germany’s greatest living painter, was compelled to surrender his official place some months ago After Matisse, the French colorist, Liebermann is probably the greatest full-Jew in European art, although his best work was completed years ago. He is eighty-three years of age.

To be a Jew, however, is not the only offense of which a German painter may be guilty. It appears that it is an offense to be an expressionist in art, or even a mild modern. The Nazis know precisely how German painters should paint, and what they should paint. They have thrown out of their jobs Karl Hofer, one of the glories of modern art, a painter almost in the traditional manner; Otto Dix, one of the most powerful painters of the century, whose pacifism is in all likelihood resented, and Paul Klee, an ultra-modernist whom the average lover of art cannot be expected to understand; he is, it must be said, harsh, and over-intellectualized. He happens to be admired by better art critics than the Nazis.

Painters who continue to hold teaching positions in the State academies will probably be set to work painting thinly-disguised Nazi posters—if they have not already been compelled to do so, and they will give more or less thinly disguised lectures on How to Further the National Socialist Revolution. Young Otto Dixes who want to paint war as horrible might discourage the cannon fodder that is now being allowed to grow up—more or less peaceably—in Germany today.

The one German artist—and he is a Jew—who anticipated all this is Georges Grosz, who is to the present generation of German painters what Liebermann was to the painters of his youth. A year or more ago the Art Students’ League of New York invited Mr. Grosz to be a guest instructor. Mr. Grosz has been living in New York ever since. Mr. Grosz has been giving admired exhibitions here. Mr. Grosz, in all probability, will become an American citizen.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund